St. John Passion Final Musings

Random musings after today’s orchestra rehearsal, in no particular order, as we’re headed into the quasi-performance open rehearsal tomorrow and three days of performances:

Someone said Suzuki was “very sensitive to accelerations.”  This wins the  Politest Understatement of the Year Award, given how often he stopped us to say we were rushing or we were behind, even though we could barely hear that we were.

The male soloists kick ass.  I love an evangelist who holds the score in his hand only so he can refer to where Maestro wants to start up again, and Cristoph certainly has it down cold.  The bass Jesus (Hanno Müller-Brachmann) is solid.  Can’t speak to the women; our portion of the rehearsal ended before I got to hear them.

I was originally toying with the idea of not bringing the score on stage, but I’ve given that thought up — there are too many late surprises and minor adjustments by Suzuki that I can’t keep track of all of them.  I’ll need those glances down to see what’s next.

Suzuki is so freakin’ clear with his choral conducting, it’s unbelievable.  He breathes with us — my wife, who has conducted more than a few small choruses in her time, has always insisted that’s the key to choral conducting.  The tricky thing is still catching his hand movements for cutoffs, because he does a little extra flourish to show where the consonant goes… and you have to get used to waiting for it.  It’s like playing rock-paper-scissors with someone, only you go on “One, two, three!” and the other person goes on “One, two, three, shoot!”  If you cut-off too early and then see the extra flourish (he sort of points up with his finger after the traditional cutoff sign), it’s too late.

After the constant starting and stopping during these rehearsals, one chorister wondered how many times he would stop, and started making tick marks in his score to keep track.  The verdict?  Suzuki stopped 69 times during the first 75 minutes or so of rehearsal before the break.

I can’t quite read the orchestra players — I think they’re annoyed at the constant stops and lectures about what they should be doing, but they’re also fascinated by his attention to detail and realize that they’re learning from him.  No, maybe they’re just annoyed!  In any case, they now match the chorus in many places with the same articulations, unwritten dynamics, and cutoffs.

At least a few choristers are grumbling about the direction this has gone — overheard amongst the complaints about the starts and stops was that, with the scores in our hands now and so many details to remember, the piece has become less personal and more mechanical.  I myself am finding it necessary to really internalize the detailed direction in order to come closer to realizing the vision laid out for us… but I admit it’s taken a lot of work.  The difference in what we’re producing now compared to last Saturday is quite remarkable.  Basically, we can’t take anything for granted if we want to own this ourselves, too.

I marvel at all the little things that Suzuki has brought out during these intense rehearsals that I couldn’t hear at all on the other recordings I’ve listened to and certainly never anticipated as I learned the piece.  Here are just a few examples:

Looking forward to a great series of performances.

2 responses to “St. John Passion Final Musings

  1. Loved hearing about his rehearsal. I have not had a chance to listen to your video posting or other links and will do that but am in the midst of my own St. John’s rehearsal week and so time is limited. It is a thrilling piece to work on!

  2. Pingback: Berlioz is the Opposite of Bach | Just Another Bass

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